Annis Boudinot Stockton

Poet and Wife of Declaration Signer Richard Stockton

Annis Boudinot was born July 1, 1736, in Darby, Pennsylvania, to Catherine Williams and Elias Boudinot, merchant and silversmith, who later moved his family to Princeton, New Jersey. She was their eldest daughter and the second of ten children, though the first to be born in North America (her parents had just returned from Antigua where her father had run a plantation).

The Boudinot family settled in Princeton, New Jersey. There Annis was exposed to the intellectual and social circles of the area, and her parents gave her a good education. She became particularly interested in poetry, an unusual pastime for a woman of that time, and published her first poem at age 16: To the Honorable Colonel Peter Schuyler, in the New-York Mercury and New American Magazine.

Young Annis thrived in the town’s stimulating academic atmosphere, and became acquainted with Richard Stockton when her brother, Elias Boudinot, studied law in Richard’s office and married his sister, Hannah Stockton. Elias became a statesman from New Jersey, and was President of the Continental Congress in 1782 and 1783, and a signer of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War.

Richard Stockton, eldest son of John and Abigail (Phillips) Stockton, was born October 1, 1730. He was educated in the early years by Reverend Doctor Samuel Finley at Nottingham Academy in Maryland, and then attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), graduating in 1748. He studied law under the honorable David Ogden of Newark, at that time the most eminent lawyer in the colony.

Stockton was admitted to the bar in 1754, to the grade of counselor in 1758, and in 1763 he received the degree of Sergeant-at-Law the highest degree of law attainable. He opened his law practice in Princeton in 1754, and later another in Newark. He was Judge of the Supreme Court and a member of the King’s Council for New Jersey before the Revolution.

Sometime in the late 1750s, Annis Boudinot married Richard Stockton, one of the most eloquent lawyers in the colonies. She was a woman of high character and patriotic spirit, which made her a fitting companion for the man who would soon devote his life to the cause of independence.

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Martha Jefferson

Wife of President Thomas Jefferson

Martha Wayles was born at The Forest in Charles City County – near Williamsburg, Virginia – on October 30, 1748. Her parents were John Wayles and his first wife Martha (Patsy) Eppes, wealthy plantation owners. Martha’s mother was the daughter of Francis Eppes of Bermuda Hundred, a huge Virginia plantation. Patsy died when her daughter Martha was only three weeks old.

No record of her early years exist but in light of her father’s wealth and prominence, Martha Wayles was likely educated at home by traveling tutors in literature, poetry, French, and Bible study; she likely received considerable training in music. Certainly a young woman of her region, era, and wealth would also be trained in sewing and medicinal preparations.

Martha probably played a social role at the Wayles plantation; her later skills at Monticello would also suggest she received basic training on running a plantation, making household staples; she also assisted her father with management of crop business accounting.

Martha Wayles married Bathurst Skelton in 1766; they lived at his Charles City County plantation and had one son, John Wayles Skelton. Bathurst Skelton died in September 1768 at Williamsburg after an accident, leaving Martha a rich widow, and she moved back into her father’s house.

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, in Albemarle County, Virginia, the third child of Peter Jefferson, a surveyor, and Jane Randolph, daughter of a distinguished Virginia family. Their estate, Shadwell, was on the banks of the Rivanna River in the sparsely populated Piedmont Region, between the gentrified Tidewater coastline and the Blue Ridge Mountains of the frontier. Throughout his life, Jefferson would occupy a political and psychological space that balanced the responsibilities of establishment privilege with the lures of open, unexplored territory.

In 1760, Jefferson entered the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg at the age of 16; he studied there for two years. At William and Mary, he enrolled in the philosophy school and studied mathematics, metaphysics, and philosophy. A keen and diligent student, according to the family tradition, and he frequently studied fifteen hours a day. In addition to his academic pursuits, young Thomas excelled as a horseman and violinist.

After graduating with highest honors in 1762, he read law with George Wythe, Virginia’s most eminent legal scholar of that era, and was admitted to the Virginia bar in 1767. Jefferson handled many cases as a lawyer in colonial Virginia, more than a hundred each year between 1768 and 1773 in General Court alone, while acting as counsel in hundreds of cases. His client list included members of Virginia’s most elite families, including members of his mother’s family, the Randolphs.

The Jefferson Marriage
Sometime in 1770, probably in Williamsburg, Martha Wayles Skelton – the widow of Jefferson’s classmate at William and Mary, Bathurst Skelton – met a rather shy attorney and scholar named Thomas Jefferson, who was then serving in the House of Burgesses. When Jefferson began courting her in December 1770, she was living again at The Forest with her young son, John, who died suddenly of a fever on June 10, 1771, when she was already engaged to Jefferson.

Family tradition says that Martha was accomplished and beautiful – slender figure, hazel eyes, and auburn hair – and wooed by many. Jefferson found Martha especially attractive because of her education and her penchant for music. Throughout their courtship in 1770 and 1771, the young couple frequently harmonized together, she singing while he played accompaniment on piano.

Martha married Thomas Jefferson on New Year’s Day, 1772, at the bride’s plantation home, The Forest, near Williamsburg. The Jeffersons honeymooned there for two weeks before setting out in a two-horse carriage for a cottage on the property that would become Monticello, though the mansion house was not yet built. They made the 100-mile trip in one of the worst snowstorms ever to hit Virginia. Some miles from their destination, their carriage bogged down in two feet of snow, and they had to complete the journey on horseback.

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Abigail Adams

First Lady and Wife of Founding Father John Adams

Abigail Adams (1744-1818) was the wife of President John Adams, the mother of President John Quincy Adams, and the second First Lady of the United States. As the Second Continental Congress drafted and debated the Declaration of Independence, Abigail began to urge John in her letters that the creation of a new form of government was an opportunity to make the legal status of women equal to that of men. The text of those letters became some of the earliest known writings advocating women’s rights.

Young Abigail Adams

Abigail Smith was born on November 11, 1744, at Weymouth, Massachusetts to the Reverend William and Elizabeth Smith. On her mother’s side, she was descended from the Quincys, a well-known political family in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and a cousin of Dorothy Hancock. The Smith home was busy and active – visitors came often and relatives lived nearby.

Abigail was a sickly child; throughout her youth, she suffered from one minor illness after another. Her parents feared that some disease or infection would cut her life short. She was fortunate to have a father who loved learning and gave her full access to his extensive library, and became one of the best-read women of her time. Abigail read widely in poetry, drama, history, theology and political theory. In this atmosphere she developed the values and moral fiber that would serve her as an adult

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Rebecca Sherman

Wife of Declaration of Independence Signer Roger Sherman

Roger Sherman
Portrait by Ralph Earle
Sherman did not pose for Earle – he was incapable of “posing” for anyone – he quite literally “sat” for him, and the result is one of the most striking portraits of the age.

Rebecca Minot Prescott (1742 – 1813) was born in 1742. She was the daughter of Benjamin and Rebecca Minot Prescott from Salem, Massachusetts, and the niece of Roger Sherman’s brother, Reverend Josiah Sherman.

Roger Sherman was born at Newton, Massachusetts, on April 19, 1721, to a poor farming family. In 1723, he moved with his parents to what was then a frontier town, Stoughton, which was seventeen miles south of Boston. Roger’s education was very limited, but he had access to his father’s library, a good one by the standards of the day, and when Roger was about thirteen years old the town built a grammar school, which he attended for a time. Roger was first cousin twice removed of Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin.

Roger was blessed with an active thirst for learning, and Stoughton was fortunate to have a parish Minister by the name of Reverend Samuel Danbar, who had been educated at Harvard. The reverend took young Roger under his wing, and helped him acquire some knowledge of mathematics, sciences, literature, and philosophy.

At Stoughton, Roger’s father had carved out a farm in the wilderness. To help earn additional money, his father also made shoes, and young Roger was taught the shoemaking trade at an early age. As a boy, he read widely in his spare time, but he spent most of his waking hours helping his father with farming chores and making shoes.

After his father’s death in 1743, Roger Sherman moved with his mother and siblings to New Milford, Connecticut, where an elder brother was living. For a time, Roger continued to farm and make shoes. Then, in partnership with his brother, Roger opened the town’s first store, and rapidly became one of the town’s leading citizens.

He also used his mathematical skills and studied to become a surveyor. In 1745, he was appointed surveyor of New Haven County, Connecticut, and served in this capacity until 1758. During that time, he bought a considerable amount of land, and became active in the affairs of New Milford, serving as juryman, town clerk, church deacon, school committeeman, and agent to the Assembly of Town business.

Although he had no formal legal training, Sherman was urged to read for the bar by a local lawyer, and he was accepted to the Bar of Litchfield, Connecticut, in 1754. He was elected to represent New Milford in the Connecticut General Assembly from 1755 to 1758 and from 1760 to 1761.

Sherman also began providing astronomical calculations for almanacs in 1748. Since New Milford had no newspaper and reading material was hard to come by, Sherman wrote and published a popular Almanac of his own from 1750 to 1761. By the age of 40, he had become a very successful landowner and businessman, while integrating himself into the social and political fabric of New England.

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Mary Morris

Wife of Declaration of Independence Signer Lewis Morris

Lewis and Mary Walton Morris

Mary Walton came from a notable family of New York merchants. Her father was Jacob Walton who had married Maria Beekman, daughter of Dr. Gerardus Beekman. With his brother William, Jacob carried on the business that had been founded by their father.

Lewis Morris, the third Morris to be named Lewis, was born in New York in 1726, the eldest son of Lewis and Catherine (Staats) Morris. His father was the second lord of the vast manor of Morrisania. His great grandfather, Richard Morris, had purchased the first tract of land in southwest Bronx that became the basis for the Morrisania manor. Upon graduating from Yale College in 1746, Lewis returned to his father’s residence, where he devoted himself to the pursuits of agriculture and helped manage the estate.

On September 24, 1749, Lewis Morris married Mary Walton, enhancing his already great fortune. They had ten children, six sons and four daughters: Catherine, Mary, Lewis, Jacob, Sarah, William, Helena, James, Staats, and Richard. Sons, Lewis, Jacob, and Richard fought in the Revolutionary War, and son William served as aide-de-camp to General Anthony Wayne.

Mary Walton Morris was an eminently capable woman, and notwithstanding her wealth and social position, was a well-trained and thrifty housewife. She actively entered into the rural life that her husband had chosen for them.

After his father died In 1762, Lewis, the eldest son, inherited Morrisania and became its third lord. He devoted himself to the management of his large estate and became a successful farmer. About this time, he gained an interest in local politics, and in 1769 served a term in the colonial legislature.

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Sarah Clark

Wife of Declaration of Independence Signer Abraham Clark

Abraham Clark and his signature on the Declaration of Independence

Sarah Hatfield was born in 1728, the eldest daughter of Isaac and Sarah Price Hatfield, a farming family in Elizabethtown, New Jersey. Abraham Clark was born February 15, 1725, and in his boyhood, he was too frail for farm work. His father, Thomas Clark, realized that Abraham had a natural gift for mathematics, so he hired a tutor to teach Abraham the profession of surveying.

Clark’s love of study, and the generosity of his character, naturally made him popular – his opinion was valued, and often sought. He was called to fill various offices, the duties of which rendered himself highly useful in the community in which he lived. While working as a surveyor, he taught himself law and went into practice. He became quite popular and became known as the poor man’s councilor, because he offered to defend poor men when they couldn’t afford a lawyer.

Abraham Clark married Sarah Hatfield in 1748, with whom he had ten children: Aaron, Thomas, Abraham Jr., Hannah, Andrew, Sarah, Cavalier, Elizabeth, Abraham Clark III, and Abigail. It is said that Sarah was an intrepid and resourceful women, whose care and devotion allowed her husband the opportunity for decades of public service. She ran the family farm and reared their ten children. The Clarks attended the First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethtown, where her father was an Elder.

Clark followed his father’s example by taking an active part in civic affairs. He entered politics as a clerk of the Provincial Assembly. Later he became High Sheriff of Essex County, and in 1775 was elected to the Provincial Congress. He was also a member of the Committee of Public Safety. Between 1774 and 1776, he attended several Revolutionary conventions, and won election to the provincial assembly. In whatever capacity he acted as a public servant, he attracted the respect and admiration of the community, by his punctuality, his integrity, and perseverance.

Early in the American Revolution, Clark was highly vocal on his opinion that the American colonies should have their independence. Early in 1776, the New Jersey delegation to the Continental Congress opposed independence from Great Britain. As the issue heated up, the state convention replaced all their delegates with men who favored separation from the mother country. On June 21, 1776, they appointed Abraham Clark, along with John Hart, Francis Hopkinson, Richard Stockton, and John Witherspoon as new delegates.

Clark was well aware, as were his fellow congressional delegates, of the gravity of the decision for independence from Great Britain. He knew full well that fortune and individual safety were at stake, but personal considerations did not compare to the honor and liberty of his country. Clark was prepared to risk everything he held dear for freedom from British tyranny.

Abraham Clark arrived in Philadelphia on June 28, 1776, and a few days later, he was called upon to vote for, or against, the proclamation of independence. On July 2, 1776, he voted for the Declaration of Independence, and affixed his name to that sacred document, determined to meet the consequences of that noble but dangerous act with fortitude and resolution, becoming a free born citizen of America.

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Eleanor Armor Smith

Wife of Declaration of Independence Signer James Smith

Eleanor Armor of Newcastle, Delaware, was born in 1729. She was described as “a young woman of many accomplishments and good family connection.” James Smith was born in Ireland, the second son in a large family, most likely in 1719, and came to Pennsylvania as a boy of ten or twelve years of age. His family settled in York County, Pennsylvania, on acreage west of the Susquehanna River.

His father was a successful farmer, and James received a good education at Reverend Francis Alison’s academy in New London, PA, where he learned Greek, Latin, and mathematics, including land surveying. He later studied law at the office of his older brother George, in Lancaster PA.

American Patriot
Ole Erekson, Engraver, circa 1876

Smith was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar at age twenty-six, and set up an office in Cumberland County, PA, near Shippensburg, as a lawyer and surveyor. This was a frontier area at the time, so he spent much of his time engaged in surveying, only practicing law when the work was available. In about 1750, he moved to the more populated village of York, where he continued the practice of his profession for the remainder of his life. He was the first attorney to practice in York, and remained at the head of the bar of that county until after the Revolution.

Mr. Smith was quite an eccentric man, and possessed a vein of humor, coupled with a sharp wit and the gift of storytelling, which made him a great favorite in the social circle in which he moved.
Smith was endowed with wit and humor, given to storytelling and jovial companionship.

In 1760, when he was 41 years old, James Smith married Eleanor Armor, and they would have five children: three sons and two daughters. Only one of the sons and two of the daughters survived him. Their son James Smith, Jr. died a few months after his father’s death. The daughter, became the wife of James Johnson, a prominent citizen of York.

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Anne Morton

John Morton

Wife of Signer of the Declaration of Independence John Morton

Anne Justis was born in 1730 in Kingsessing, Pennsylvania, a neighborhood in the southwestern section of Philadelphia. She was the daughter of Morton Justis and Brita Walraven Justis, Swedish immigrants. John Morton was born in 1724 in Chester County, Pennsylvania, on a farm in Ridley Township. They were neighbors in the farmland of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, both of Swedish extraction, whose ancestors immigrated to the lower counties of Pennsylvania at the opening of the eighteenth century.

John’s father died a few months before his birth. When John was about seven years old, his mother his mother married an Englishman, John Sketchley. His stepfather was an intelligent and gifted man, who gave John a good basic education at home. Sketchley also trained John in the professions of farming and surveying, a useful trade that Morton would practice for the rest of his life.

When Anne Justis married John Morton in 1745, she probably had little idea of the honors the future held in store for her husband, even though he was already looked upon in their small community as a young man with a promising future. John was noted for his abilities and his habit of hard work. As a young man, he cultivated his own acreage, and alternated his farm work with surveying new lands. His integrity and his commitment to the community made him popular with the citizens. The family continued to reside in Ridley, where John was active in civic and church affairs.

Anne and John had twelve children, nine of whom survived into adulthood, three sons and six daughters: Aaron, the eldest child; Sketchley, a major in the Continental Army; Rebecca; John, who became a surgeon and died while a prisoner of war on the British ship Falmouth in New York Harbor; Sarah; Lydia; Elizabeth; Mary; and Ann, whose husband, Captain John Davis fought in the Revolutionary War as an officer in the Pennsylvania militia.

In 1754, at the age of thirty, John Morton turned his attention to politics. He was elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 1756, and for some time was the Speaker of the House of Representatives. He sided with the Penn family proprietorship, and served on that body for eighteen terms, while also serving as a Chester County Justice of the Peace (1757-64 and 1770-74) and as a local sheriff (1766-69). Despite his lack of formal training, John served as an associate Justice of Pennsylvania’s Superior Court.

Morton’s service to the nation began in 1765 when he represented Pennsylvania in the Stamp Act Congress in New York. What gave the delegates the most trouble was whether to acknowledge the authority of Parliament to regulate trade. If they admitted that Parliament had the authority to regulate trade, it could be construed as an admission that taxes on the American colonies to raise revenue was acceptable. The delegates maintained that Parliament could not levy taxes on the colonies, since the colonies had no representation there.

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Elizabeth Montgomery Witherspoon

Wife of Signer John Witherspoon

Image: John Witherspoon

John Witherspoon was born on February 5, 1722, at the village of Gifford, near Edinburgh, Scotland. The males in his family were all clergymen, and he was trained to become a Presbyterian minister. At the age of four, he could read the Bible. He attended grammar school at the neighboring town of Haddington. At age 13, he entered college, and earned Master of Arts (1739) and Doctorate of Divinity (1743) degrees from the University of Edinburgh.

In 1743, the Haddington Presbytery licensed him to preach, and he was ordained two years later at Beith, Ayrshire, as a Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) minister. He occupied that pulpit until 1757, and there he met Elizabeth Montgomery, a woman distinguished for her piety and benevolence

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Deborah Hart

John Hart

Wife of Declaration of Independence Signer John Hart

Deborah Scudder was the only child of Richard Scudder from Scudder Falls, and she had a distinguished family history, going back almost to the Mayflower. Deborah’s great-grandfather, John Scudder, came to Salem, Massachusetts, on the James in 1635. With his brothers Thomas and Henry, John Scudder moved from there to Southold, Long Island, in 1651, to Huntington in 1657, and to Newtown in 1660, where he was prominent in town affairs.

John Hart was born, probably in 1711, in Hopewell Township, Hunterdon County, New Jersey. Edward Hart, John’s father, was a Justice of the Peace, a Public Assessor, and a farmer. He arrived in Hopewell about 1710, at the age of twenty. He married Martha Furman on May 17, 1712, and they had five children, one of whom was John.

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